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Ideas for Letters of Recommendation

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Competition is fierce as an abundance of people are seeking employment or admission into higher education institutions to increase their employment prospects. Letters of recommendation set applicants apart from the competition and show an applicant's value to an organization or educational institution. It is a considerate gesture a recommender performs that greatly assists an applicant on his career path.


An applicant should follow any and all guidance a prospective employer or educational institution provides regarding recommendation letters. If the entity does not provide detailed information on recommendation letter requirements or preferences, the applicant may provide a set of three to five letters that convey their education, employment background, citizenship and character. However, it is the quality of letters, as opposed to quantity, that sets the applicant apart.

Who an Applicant Should Approach

For a letter of recommendation that conveys an applicant's educational background, the applicant should approach a current or former teacher, instructor or professor to craft the letter – preferably an instructor who has taught the applicant in more than one course. The applicant may also approach an academic adviser, a research assistant, a tutor or someone who worked alongside the applicant as a teaching assistant. For an employment letter of recommendation, the applicant should approach a former employer or co-worker, a mentor or an educator. If the applicant is involved in any charity or community organizations, a letter of recommendation from a director of such an organization is a great addition. The applicant should have a positive, good-standing relationship with all prospective letter writers. An applicant should not, however, provide letters from relatives or politicians, as this is generally an ineffective approach.

How to Approach a Potential Recommender

An applicant must ask a recommender's permission – he should not assume a teacher or employer is willing to write the letter. The applicant should set an appointment with a prospective recommender. The appointment should be set at least one month in advance, if possible. If not, he should provide the recommender as much time as possible to complete the letter, thereby showing respective for the recommender's schedule. Applicants must provide relevant information to assist with the writing of the letter. This may include the applicant's resume, his transcript, an outline of strengths, information about the company or school to which the applicant is applying and the date the letter is due.

The Letter's Contents

A recommendation letter should include a relevant tidbit about the recommender – she may indicate her position, qualifications and a few details regarding her relationship to the applicant. The letter should explain the candidate's position when working with the recommender. The recommender should go into detail, explaining the applicant's duties, her responsibilities, accomplishments, skills, problem-solving ability and resourcefulness. The candidate's teamwork abilities, leadership ability, attitude and communication skills are also relevant pieces of information to include. Additionally, the recommender may compare the applicant to other people in her position and state whether her performance was average, above average or exceptional.

Tips for Recommenders

According to Ithaca College, a recommender should write the letter on his personal letterhead and keep a copy for his records. If there are any complications or doubts regarding the recommendation letter, such as doubts regarding the candidate's qualifications or the recommender is unable to complete the letter in a timely manner, the recommender should communicate his concerns to the candidate. When writing the letter, the recommender should be mindful of the reader's point of view. The recommender should refrain from including any information about the candidate's sex, race, religion, disabilities or cultural beliefs in the letter.